We know its flimsy faÃ§ade, we know itâ€™s a broken promise waiting.
They said that if we kept working, someday we could make enough to send our kids to college, never mind the dying, the slaughter in the world. Remember the holocaust, they said, but forget the horror of today. Love the planet, but buy a car that guzzles foul gas. Study hard, get a good job, spend your cash on trinkets and drugs. They want us to live with success and debt, hand in unlovable hand.
The thing that still gets me is that no one noticed. It was a hunch that no matter how obvious we were, the fact that we were middle class, well-dressed white people would keep us safe. It was racist, and oligarchic and it delighted and disgusted me that it worked. We looked like we were doing what we were supposed to. We studied hard, politics, chemistry, biology, psychology, physics, film, sociology, philosophy, and computer science. We studied hard. We learned how the world works, and now we plan to change it.
We can build a hundred different kinds of bombs. We can genetically engineer a bacterium that could give everyone colds for weeks. We can send you a virus in the mail. We could break your servers. You cannot find us by your profiles, we come from different faiths, we are poor and wealthy, we are students, union workers, and businessmen. We could kill billions.
You are lucky. We are not as brainwashed as you wanted us to be. We will use the power we have to recreate the system through the frequency of sound, through the meter of light. We will alter the status quo; we are moving slick and sweet over your mega-conglomerate. We will be the underground and the mass consumer appeal. In every dot of perceivable digital light, we will be sending our message right to the brains of your friends, your children and your pets. You canâ€™t hide, we are the mainstream.
This is the Revolution of the Meek, stay tuned.
Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on Io, I thought I would sail about a little and see the most distant reaches of space.
Despite the limitations of technology, the endlessness that spread before our ship pulled me with a unique gravity. The bounty itself was naught. In retrospect, it was a meaningless and futile obsession, but the captain persisted. I followed, as I was wont to do given the limited quarters of the starship, and it never occurred to me that the quest was impossible. After all, I longed for nothing but the sight of stars through the viewscreen, so I was content to drift along in the wake of his unwavering determination.
TW was regarded as the most feared man in the seemingly endless reaches of the solar system, and despite the minimal reward I was compelled by the captainâ€™s inexplicable, unwavering persistence to pursue the ghost of the pale ship through the asteroid belt, through the orbits of nine planets, and through the gentle and burning licks of solar flares.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ the captain said. â€œHeâ€™s out there.â€
TW had claimed innumerable victims, and even in my green and formless years the myths had flickered across television screens as the magnetic residue of a legend. I must admit that I was infatuated with the concept. When the captain himself raised the bounty my interest was piqued, and the lot of us were incited to impossible action.
â€œHave you sighted the ship?â€ he broadcast over all frequencies, but the replies were foreboding or outright prohibitive.
In my quarters, I dreamed of the solar system stretching out before me like an arm that never reached a hand. Doubtless, he dreamed of whiteness streaking the dark of space.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ he said. â€œHeâ€™s still out there.â€
Months passed like days, occupied by the dreariness of daily duty and the shadow of passion that the captain cast upon us. I kept a log of activities, though it was surely tedious by the standards of occupied worlds.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ the captain said. â€œHeâ€™s still out there.â€ Despite the protests of the senior staff, he continued. Our transmissions were denied by ships which busied themselves with far more likely prospects.
Behind me, Io was a frozen world. I watched the great shroud of space roll on as it rolled five thousand years ago, and I followed orders and monitored the empty radio broadcasts. Space collapsed into distance and the blackness of the signal screen revealed no blips of existence.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ the man said. â€œHeâ€™s still out there.â€
Turnstyle aimed carefully, took into account the drift from the barely oscillating fan, and hit his brother Alphonse in the back of the head with a cigarette butt.
“Quit that,” Ingram said. Watching this is why she never liked being at Turnstyle’s place, but it beat staying at school.
“Why? He ain’t gonna notice. Fucking walltalker.” Turnstyle lit another cigarette and offered one to Ingram. She shook her head violently. “I think I still got some nanites left from the other night. I know for a fact there’s soy sauce in the kitchen.”
“Not on your life. My stomach still hasn’t recovered from the cooking oil wine you made last time.” Ingram started absent-mindedly picking at the exposed foam that blistered through a hole in the sofa.
“That was good shit,” Turnstyle said. “Good shit. You’re crazy. We could go see if we could find Al’s Roulette stash.”
“Oh, hell no!” Ingram said. “You do know why they call it ‘Roulette’ right? ‘Cause every time you take it there’s a chance your brain’s gonna explode! You wanna be a walltalker?”
“Maybe. Least Al’s never bored.” Turnstyle looked at his brother releasing a steady stream of words toward the wallpaper. Alphonse’s voice was barely above a whisper, and his face was blank. But he never stopped talking.
“I invented Roulette,” Turnstyle said, abruptly.
“No, seriously. Somebody had to turn grandpa’s stroke medicine into a rec drug. Why couldn’t it have been me? You’re saying I don’t see the entertainment value of something that connects your neurons in new ways?”
“First off, you don’t even know what a neuron is–”
“Secondly, if you had, you could afford some proper alcohol, and you wouldn’t have to reprogram the decontamination nanites.”
“Well, yeah…but…” Turnstyle scrunched down into the sofa. He took what was left of his cigarette and flicked it–still lit–at Alphonse. He missed by a good three feet.
“Was that lit? You’re going to burn the walls down, you are. What would your Pa say, you did that?”
“Same thing he always says: ‘Fuck! Why aren’t you in school?’ ” Tunrstyle stared at his 14-year-old older brother, who was staring at the wall. “Goddamn walltalker.”
“Ah, don’t be like that. Go get your soy sauce.”
“Why not?” Ingram said. “Nothing else to do.”
â€œSpace-faring monkies with a mirror fetish?â€
â€œYup. In The Day Ambrosia Paled by Kinstev Ramod, chapter six.â€
â€œDamn. Okay, uhhâ€¦ how about ice cream that turns your teeth green and carries a rare strand of the bubonic plague? Unleashed on a modern colony?â€
â€œAs a government experiment: Fire Warden by Jack Strapley. As a mad scientistâ€™s coup de grace: On Being Trembleton by Emilia dâ€™Oernga. With a time travel sub-plot: Terra Infirma by Marguerite Bloc. Sorry, Glenn. Itâ€™s all been done.â€
Glenn groaned and leaned back in his chair, running his hand through the long part of his hair and pulling it out over his eyes, staring at the brown strands in frustration. â€œDamn it all! How am I supposed to write if there arenâ€™t any original ideas?â€
â€œHey, come on, Glenn.â€ Neil grimaced at his friend in sympathy. â€œYouâ€™re just not thinking outside the box. Look, I know itâ€™s tough, but thereâ€™s got to be something you can do thatâ€™s not already in here.â€ He gestured at the Central Database terminal heâ€™d been using, the letters on the keyboard nearly worn off from the fruitless searches heâ€™d made.
Neilâ€™s words were encouraging, but his tone was notâ€”itâ€™d been months since Glenn had come up with his last viable story idea, and he still remembered the celebration theyâ€™d had. Now their fridge was bare, and there wasnâ€™t a drop of alcohol in the house. Neil let out a long sigh. â€œLookâ€¦ maybe you need a rest, yeah? Letâ€™s go out for a while. Weâ€™ll go to the club, see Jeannie and the guys, and just relax. I bet itâ€™d help. What do you say?â€
Glenn made a noise of frustration and sat up straight again. â€œNo. No! Weâ€™re almost out of cash. What good is going out going to do? Thatâ€™ll just make things worse. I have to think of something, and fast!â€
Neil sighed and turned back to the terminal. â€œGlenn, weâ€™ve been at this for hours. Youâ€™re gonna make yourself sick.â€
â€œNo. No, Iâ€™ve got one.â€ Glenn turned sharply, his face lighting up as his eyes latched onto Neil. He paused dramatically. â€œHow aboutâ€¦ a guy with writerâ€™s block trying to figure out what to put in a story?â€
Neil groaned loudly and threw a stylus at Glenn. â€œDo I even have to answer? I think itâ€™d break the database if I tried a search on that. Billions of billions of hits.â€
Glenn chuckled. â€œYeah, yeah, I know. Geez. I just wish that for once I could write something without caring that someone else already did it.â€
â€œYeah, I know. I know.â€
The two men stared in silence for a moment, Glenn at the ceiling, Neil at the screen that was nothing more than one massive search field.
â€œHow about a story about a writer who hacks into the Central Database and erases the old records so that editors will think his story is original?â€
â€œYou know,â€ Neil said with a slow grin, â€œI donâ€™t think that oneâ€™s been done yet.â€
After a while, you forget that itâ€™s summer. Months and weeks become meaningless numbers on the monitorâ€™s clock, and you donâ€™t bother asking anyone what they are doing on the weekend. You know. Theyâ€™re typing. You know.
You wait for the end of the shift and walk to the bar, seven blocks of August rain. â€œBeer,â€ you say, and the man obeys. Drops a pint on the table in front of you. You drum your fingers upon the wood, imagining text on the wall.
The beer is flat. The room is flat. Theyâ€™ve left you hanging, like they always do.
Hours later, after you thought youâ€™d fought it off, you surface in the lobby but the receptionist does not smirk. Sheâ€™s used to this. You know sheâ€™s used to this.
â€œOvertime?â€ she says, and you nod. Overtime. Undertime. Time. They sit you down in the room lit only by the blue of a monitor, and you unfold into the refresh rate of the digital screen.
It seems like the document is typing itself, but in an accidental glance you see your hands floating over the keyboard. They seem to be plastic. You realize that itâ€™s been days since you slept.
Your bell tolls eight hours and you push yourself up, forcing numb muscles to move to the door. You walk to the bar, seven blocks of August rain. â€œBeer,â€ you say, and the man obeys. Drops a pint on the table in front of you. You drum your fingers upon the wood, imagining text on the wall.
Here in the Quiet Dark, a raygun can be your dearest friend. It warms to your touch, responds to your requests, and clears your way. It is the best partner one can expect to have in the Quiet Dark.
I’ve had Lizzette here for longer than most of my friends. Certainly longer than my living friends. It is not a weapon, it is not a tool. It is a partner, a friend. A lover.
That’s not queer, or nothing. But Lizzette’s saved my life far too often to be anything but a lover. And here in the Quiet Dark, love is a rare and flowered thing. You best find it where you can. Some of us up here, some claim to love their crate. But that’s a parasitic relationship, and any crate knows that, from the little cargo rockets to those faster-than-light frigates. They know who runs ’em to the scrap heap. No, me and Lizzette, here, we’re partners.
I tried giving her, up you know. Lizzette, the crate, the Quiet Dark, all of it. Settled down on a orb, found a woman who didn’t care when last I felt the sun and tried to live a life of noise and brightness.
I was warned. They all warned me, just like I’m warning you now. It never lasts. Not for us. Not after all the time in the Quiet Dark. I saw stars collide, you know? Watched a dark hole form and drag in the cosmos inside it. You think I could explain that to someone used to blue above? You think you’ll be able to?
The whole time, I wanted Lizzette there, at my hip. She’d been with me, she’d seen it all. But my girl didn’t want none of that. Proper men don’t carry guns, she said. But Lizzette wasn’t just a gun. She was my partner.
Don’t go thinking you’re any different. I can read a man’s scars as well as a veiwport. You’ve seen too much, same as me.
I suppose a fight between Lizzette and such a woman was destined to end only one way. I wish I had something to remember her by, like that necklace she always wore. But that went in the blast.
Probably just as well. I have Lizzette, after all. What more do I need, way out here?